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The book of Acts reminds us how God can do way more than we often think He can. We learn in Acts 9:31-43 from Peter’s example more specifically that we are not the light of the world, but we are the vessels through which the light is sent throughout the world. Our heavenly Father has left us here on this earth for a purpose and in this message Todd reminds us that God changes the world through people He changes and if we are not part of God changing the world we should ask ourselves if we have been truly changed by God.
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The Good Infection: Christianity
Humility in Men and Prejudice in the Church: Something to Be Praised and Something to Be Purged
The Conversion of Cornelius AND Peter
How the Saints Go Marching Out
Saul: The Second Most Important Conversion in History
Extraordinary Living Marked by Ordinary Obedience
The “Illusion” of a False Faith and How to Deal With It. Simon Magus and Tares Among the Wheat
Tale of Two Adams: A Strategy to Change the World
Good morning, Fort Worth, Plano, and Dallas! It is awesome to be together. We're making our way through Acts. We're going to finish Acts, chapter 9, today. Let us pray.
Lord, thank you for this incredible record you have preserved for us in Scripture that we might understand who you are and who we are to be. I pray that wherever we're at this morning as we come in here we would encounter the living God, the God who can do whatever he wills.
Lord, it is great that you can handle the fact that sometimes we don't understand why we don't see you doing more, but I pray that as we study Acts we would see all that you do and be a part of what it is you want to do to bring grace, goodness, and mercy to this world that is filled with anything but.
We thank you for your Word that explains to us why this world is not as it should be. We know there are some here this morning who are not moving toward the Christmas season with hope because much of the despair that defines this world is heavy upon them. We pray that today as we study the truth of who you are would bring them grace and that those of us who are not in a season of despairing would be a means of that grace to them because of the way we go out of here. In Jesus' name, amen.
The book of Acts has in it, like many places in the Bible, sections of Scripture that when you read them you're kind of like, "Okay, I just finished my little devotional journey, but so what?" Let me read to you the Scriptures we're going to study today, Acts 9:31-43.
Like I say often, you get done with that, and you're like, "What relevance is that going to have for me?" One of the reasons I love to gather in here and use the gifts God has given me is to show you everywhere you turn in God's Bible there is a wealth of encouragement waiting for you. Let's read it first and question that statement. Here we go.
"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed.
Peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.' Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room.
Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, 'Do not delay in coming to us.' So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.
But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon."
Okay. So what? Nice diary of the early church. Great that back then things that were completely stirring, like a guy who had been paralyzed for some reason for eight years is no longer paralyzed, a woman who was dead who used to help out widows is now brought back to life, resuscitated, and Peter goes to hang out with some guy who tans furs and skins… Help. Well, let's see if we can't find some stuff here that will encourage you, and, believe me, there is much.
Last week we talked about this reality. We talked about the fact that when Jesus comes into our lives he changes us. We looked at Paul, specifically. We saw how God changed Paul's purpose, Paul's problems, and Paul's perspective. Anybody who encounters Jesus, things are going to change, but let's be honest. Sometimes we go, "Why aren't they changing more? Why isn't God bringing about the change that he should?"
Why are we in this circumstance where Jesus said the gates of hell aren't going to stand against his church as it goes forward, and all of a sudden, the first guy who really speaks up in an eloquent way to say, "We no longer need temple worship in Jerusalem, we no longer need to be slaves to the law," Jesus lets him get stoned. Why is that? God, what are you doing? Why aren't you doing more?
We see that God used that particular persecution of Stephen and other Hellenized Jews… Again, if you haven't been with us, let me explain that. There are Jews who had been dispersed throughout the entire known Roman civilization. The Roman civilization, though it won the war, lost the culture war, and the Greek civilization that was there before largely prevailed.
A transliteration from the Greek into Latin and English that we would use today of a Greek culture is a Hellenized culture. Anybody who lived in the broader Roman Empire, not in the Hebraic region of Israel, was called a Hellenized Jew. Some Jews had been captured and dispersed all over the Roman Empire. Then some of them had eventually made their way back to Jerusalem. All good Jews, all devout Jews, made a trek to Jerusalem three times a year.
This one year when they went back to Jerusalem there was this Passover event that was one of the three major festivals you had to go back for, and there was this great stir, because there was this one who had said he was the Messiah who was being offered up on the same day the Passover lamb is sacrificed, and the stir was not just that he was offered up but that three days later he came back to life.
Some of the Jews who had been dispersed stayed and became followers of this Jesus. They attended synagogues that were made up of other Jews who spoke different languages from around the Roman Empire, and the Hebraic Jews had their own temples. It was a couple of these completed Jews, these Messianic Jews, to use common language, Jews who believed in Jesus…
By the way, when you talk to your Jewish friend and they say something to you along the lines of, "Hey, man, I'm Jewish," just tell them, "Well, the most Jewish thing you can do is believe in a messiah, so let's talk about whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. I'm okay that you don't think he is, but let me just tell you I'm not trying to force anything on you. I'm not trying to make you a Christian. I'm trying to help you understand that Jesus said he was the Christ." The word Christ… That's not his last name. That is just the Greek way to say Messiah. Jesus the Messiah.
"Let's discuss that. Let's see if, in fact, he might be. If you reject him, then you're free to reject him, but if he is your Messiah, let's embrace him." That's exactly what some of these Jews did in the first century. They go, "He fulfills all that the Scripture said was going to happen and be true of the Messiah," and it was beginning to change the world for a season. Then all of a sudden, it looked like the world was coming down on them, specifically the greatest power in the world, Rome, and the person of Pilate was persecuting Christ and then his people.
Not just the greatest power in the world, but the most present power in the world of the early church, the Sanhedrin, which if you want to be reminded, was the ruling authority that underneath Rome was allowed to govern the Jews, made up of 70 socially elite people who had kind of partnered with Rome to keep peace, because they were given little local power. They didn't like this idea that some people were starting to believe that there was a messiah, because they knew if there was a messiah the Messiah would deliver the people, the people would want to be free from Rome, and that would cause Rome to come down on them.
Caiaphas, the high priest, the leader of the Sanhedrin at that time, was the guy who famously prophetically spoke without knowing it when they said, "We have to get rid of this Jesus, because the people are starting to believe in him," even though Jesus wasn't calling them to insurrect against Rome, because Rome was not the great oppressor of people. Sin is the great oppressor of people, and God wanted to break them free from the bondage of sin.
When they were broken free from the bondage of sin there would be freedom indeed, but the Sanhedrin just said, "We have to do something about this Jesus," and Caiaphas said, "Don't you know it's better for one man to die so that many don't have to?" That's exactly what Jesus did. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Jesus was offered up so that many don't have to die if they would just receive the gift that is God's perfect provision for them in the person of the Christ.
The most powerful force in the world, Rome, is coming down on the church in the person of Pilate and others, the most present power in the world has come down on them in the form of the Sanhedrin, and the most passionate persecutor of people the world had ever seen in the person of Saul of Tarsus had been given empowerment by the Sanhedrin, empowered by Rome to specifically murder and imprison the church.
You go, "This is not good. There's no way this can turn." What I wanted to share with you is you're about to read something, if you look closely, that is not what you expect. Let me just remind you of a couple of things that have happened. In Acts, chapter 8, verse 3, just a chapter before where we are, it says, "But Saul began ravaging the church…" The word is used of a lion that took down a gazelle and is now digging in.
That's what Saul was doing to the church, entering house after house and dragging… That is the word of a hook through a nose and a beast or a fish that has been snagged and brought out unwillingly from where its life is. He put them in prison. We saw at the beginning of chapter 9, verse 1, Saul still breathing threats (that's the word of a wild beast that is getting ready to come and devour somebody) and murder against the disciples. This is no bueno.
Then all of a sudden, a mere 30 verses later, we read this: "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…" That is the entire known region, largely, of a Hebrew at the time. "…enjoyed peace…" You read that and go, "That's not what I expected here." We have ravaging, threat breathing, murder, and yet the church is enjoying peace.
Let me just make an observation for you that the book of Acts screams all throughout it. This is going to be an encouragement to you as you're here this morning and you wonder what relevance this text has for you. Jesus can do what he said he was going to do, and there is nothing he wants to do that he can't do. Let me say that again. Jesus can do what he said he's going to do, and there is nothing he wants to do that can't be done.
This is one of the things we see all through Scripture. In fact, around the Christmas season we celebrate that God did what only God can do. Jesus said it's really hard for people who are self-sufficient to enter into heaven. He said the rich don't enter into heaven. People thought, "My gosh! If the rich can't enter into heaven, people who are blessed by God because, obviously, they're doing what God wants them to do, who can get into heaven?" Jesus said, "Well, what's impossible for man is possible for God."
How did he do that? Well, at the beginning of the New Testament, we have a little interaction between Jesus and a young teenage girl. He said, "Blessed are you among women, for God is going to bring forth from you the hope of the world." Mary says, "Okay, well, how's that going to go down?" "Well, you're pregnant, and that child you have is going to be the Savior of all men." She's like, "Okay, this is a problem. I'm a virgin. I know I'm betrothed, engaged, to Joseph over here, but I'm not there yet."
He just said to Mary, "What is impossible for man is possible with God." All Mary did is say, "Okay." What God did is what only God can do. He didn't have a super human grow up to be super good, who would then maybe be good enough that he could be offered as a sacrifice. What God did is he had one who was going to be made in the likeness of man and being found in the appearance of man, but wasn't just man, was also divine. You see, creatures, as I will show you in a little bit, reproduce after their kind.
When you have a sinful Adam and a sinful Eve, all they bring forth is little sinners, and they need saviors. What God did is what only God can do. He placed life inside of Mary, a second Adam, if you will, who was going to come forth, who would not have a sin nature, because he was of the Father…fully human so he could identify with us as a sacrifice and fully divine so he could be perfect. God brought forth this Jeshua, which means the Lord saves, that he might deliver his people. Christmas is screaming that God can do what only God can do.
The book of Acts, chapter 9, specifically this section from verse 31 to verse 43, I think, is especially for the leaders of the church to be reminded, "I don't need you. It's not about you. It has never been about you at all. This is me. It's what I do. I am the one who said the gates of hell will not stand against my church. I know the hell of Rome is coming down on you. I know the hell of the Sanhedrin is coming down on you. I know all the hell that Paul can bring forth is coming down on you, but don't you worry, because I will go forth."
God brings peace. The word here is not the word shalom or what would be the equivalent to the word shalom. Is anybody here named Irene? The word Irene means intermittent peace. It doesn't mean shalom, this long-standing, abiding goodness and mercy that all men want. That's what God ultimately brings the church, but what he's saying is that in the middle of the persecution that was mounting, God just put a stop to it.
We know one of the ways he put a stop to it is by completely flipping the persecutor to be the persecuted. God completely changed that story. That's what God does. He's changing things. God changes the world, and he changes the world through people he changes. Remember that. God wants to bring goodness and mercy where there is chaos, disturbance, and pain, and he does it through people who have been called out of darkness by his kindness and brought into his marvelous light, that they might be a chosen race, a people called for a purpose, a royal priesthood, to do something.
Priests go to work. "A holy nation." They do the work a certain way. "A people for God's own possession." They are there for a specific purpose, and that is to do what God wants to see done. He wants peace to come. Jesus, everywhere he went, kept saying, "Fear not. My peace I give to you." Now that he's out, here's the question. Will those he has left behind be able to give the peace he gave? Well, here's something even more amazing. Not only will they give it but they will give it more than Jesus did.
Do you understand this, church? If I could tell the world on TV today that hope has come because the Messiah is here, any student of the Scriptures would say, "Todd, we don't want the Messiah to come; we want the Messiah's people to be with us," which is to say another way, "We don't need Jesus here in the person of the embodiment of the son of Mary and Joseph, because we have Jesus here in the embodiment of all of the sons of God that the Spirit of God dwells in."
The things Jesus did, the works he did, they will do also, and in fact, greater works than these will they do, because Jesus has gone to the Father and has reconciled lost men to God so that the Spirit of God can dwell in those lost men and they can be God's means of grace everywhere they go in a world that desperately needs more Jesus. Do you understand that? The world would go, "Are you crazy?" I would just tell you that's what Jesus said to his disciples on the last day.
He said, "It's better that I go." How could it be better that God incarnate leaves? "Because I'm going to go where you can't go, stand before the Father and offer a sacrifice for your sins, so that your sin, which separates you from God, can be dealt with so you can be brought near to God, and when you're brought near to God, that's going to take care of the trouble in your life so that you can be a means of grace in the life of all you come in contact with."
The book of Acts is showing you that God can do what he says he's going to do. I want to tell you… This is just a reality and this is just a fact. The moment you believe God can't do what he wants to do, you are practically an atheist. Let me say that to you again. The moment you believe God can't do whatever he wants to do, you are practically an atheist. An atheist who believes, "This can't change. It's impossible. It's always going to be this way." No, it's not.
Some of us are here in church, and we're practical atheists. We've given up. We don't think God can change our country. We don't think President Trump can become a godly man. We don't think President Obama's heart can change. We don't think that same-sex marriage, which is not good for people or our country, could turn. We don't think the idea that abortion is a right can turn. We don't think our spouse can turn.
We don't think we can leave the despair and the heartache of our past. We're practical atheists. The book of Acts is for you, and it wants to remind you that God can do more than you think he can do. Let me just show you what's going on. In the darkness that was in the world in first-century Jerusalem, all of a sudden there came a great light. This is John 1. Watch this. This is just where we are in Acts, chapter 9.
In this little map of ancient Israel, we'll see right there in Jerusalem all of a sudden there was a great light that came, and that light, we're going to find out, in the person of Christ went forth in the early church. It was there. It was actually up in Galilee originally. It went around, but now it's there in Jerusalem. Jesus says, "It's better that I go so that you may be my agents of change, and we're going to change the world."
It didn't just go from Jerusalem. We know already that it went up to Samaria. By the way, it didn't go to Samaria through the apostles. It went through other people who believed, as the apostles did, what Jesus did, which is to preach about the forgiveness of God. Not just in Samaria. We know it went to Gaza. From Gaza it went down to Ethiopia. That's where the eunuch went. We know that later it went to Damascus.
From Damascus we know it went down to Arabia and up into the Petraean region, the Nubians. We know from there it went back to Damascus, down to Jerusalem, into Caesarea, all the way up to Tarsus in Cilicia. We know it went to Lydda here in chapter 9, and then eventually to Joppa, which is there on the coast right by Tel Aviv today. Look at what's happening. All of a sudden, the Word of God is going forth, and the gates of hell aren't standing against us.
Already, here in the midst of this craziness that is Rome against them (the greatest power in the world), the Sanhedrin against them (the most present power), and Saul (the most passionate power) against them, it's changing. I know Jesus does this. How do I know Jesus does this? Well, I'll give you an example. Sixteen years ago, there was a group of friends who sat around and felt like there could be more light in this city, more of an opportunity for God to do what he wanted to do in the Metroplex region.
We just said, "We're not going to curse the darkness. We're not going to criticize others for what they're doing. Let's just see what we can do." We began to pray. In fact, this group of friends when they got together was really criticized, because they didn't have what other folks thought was an appropriate strategy to reach the world in the way that God wants the church to reach the world. What some of those folks did…
I know one leader, specifically, who said, "Listen. Everything we do is to affect the world we live in. We are going to be missional all the time. We're not going to think missions is what happens when you leave Jerusalem. We're going to be on mission in Jerusalem, and when God wants us to leave Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world, we'll go there, but for now, let us just be faithful here."
Our strategy is to be faithful. People asked early on to this group of people who gathered in the year 2000, "What is your five- and ten-year strategy?" Answer: "To be faithful. To be the people God wants us to be, to fear the Lord, to be comforted by the Holy Spirit, to be built up, and to trust that Jesus is still in the business of changed lives and is going to do something great today." We just kept saying, "Why not with us?" Lo and behold… This is a true story. It's documented.
That small group of friends in Dallas in 2000, as they started to get together and believe that God was still going to do what he said he was going to do, change things… All of a sudden, God started to produce out of that group more disciples who began to be dispersed in different places. Sometimes heads of state in other nations called us and said, "We want you to come and go to every province in our country and teach them about leadership, forgiveness, reconciliation, dignity, honor, and love in the name of Jesus."
This is what has happened from this little group in Dallas, Texas, in 2000 going forward. He has used people from this place… This video, by the way, is eight years old. We started with some folks in the Philippines (this is not the order it went), Indonesia, Cambodia, China. It spread out throughout Asia to other places, where folks are in India. We know it eventually went over to the Sub-Saharan region and all kinds of different places in Africa, starting on the southeast coast of Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, all throughout the Central Republic of Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, and Southern Sudan, all of those different places.
This video is out-of-date. It's not just all of these different places. From this little ragtag group of people, where the light of Jesus Christ was in them, these are all places the light of Christ has gone that we know about. In fact, since this was made, you can add Pakistan, Georgia (not the one by Florida; the one by Kiev), Armenia, Vietnam, Israel, Jordan, Iran, Samoa, Tonga, Cameroon, Niger, Tunisia, Albania, England, Ireland, Spain, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mali, Fort Worth, Plano…everywhere. It just continues, guys.
This is not because of anything we have done. It's what Jesus does. Everywhere you went this week we should be able to put a light. If you're a follower of Christ, there ought to be a sense of peace and a sense of the light going forward, because you have been called out of darkness, if you know who Christ is, and brought into the marvelous light.
Yesterday, I was up in Allen because my kids had some school competition with sports. I went up there early. I was waiting for the bus. I was sitting at a Starbucks, and while I was sitting at the Starbucks, I'm working, and I see a guy next to me, and you know how it is when images are moving next to you. I couldn't help but see the image he had next to him. As the day wore on, I was getting ready to leave. I packed up my computer and shut it down.
He kind of looked at me and smiled. I go, "Hey, man. Let me ask you a question." I go, "I just saw a little bit ago… I wasn't trying to look at what you were doing, but I looked over and saw what was playing on that video. That was a George Carlin comedy bit, wasn't it?" He goes, "Yeah, yeah. I love Carlin." I go, "I'm just going to tell you, I moved over after I looked. I saw that it said 'The Greatest Three Minutes in George Carlin's History.'"
I go, "I know that comedy bit. I'm a big George Carlin fan. I think he's really hilarious, and I know that bit. That bit was his railing against God and people who have faith in him. Right?" He goes, "Oh yeah, man. It was compelling." I said, "Well, let me just say this to you. Wouldn't it be great if there was somebody who could really respond? Because what he says is winsome. What he says is kind of convincing. Wouldn't it be awesome if somebody could respond to that in a way that was also compelling and would make you consider that maybe Mr. Carlin is wrong?"
I said, "Whether you want to say yes to that or not, let me just tell you something. Go Google 'What If the Skeptics Are Right?' and you're going to find a five-week series on not just those 3 minutes but the entire 45 minutes that Carlin went off on faith and the church, and you're going to find a rational defense of why Mr. Carlin is wrong. I think if George could talk to you now he'd tell you he was wrong. Let me encourage you to go check it out."
The guy goes, "I might check that out. That would be awesome." Now look. It happened to be a sermon series I did a number of years ago, so the guy is going to find out that the guy talking to him is the one who did it, which made it a little bit more awkward for me. It would be even better if it was you, and you could see somebody doing that and just go, "Hey, I'm here. I'm going to bring God's grace to this guy."
The reason I did that sermon series What If the Skeptics Are Right? is because it was compelling, and I go, "Are there answers to these statements?" We spent five weeks just working through it. We played the Carlin clip, and then we talked about it. There was a little light. I'm walking out of that same Starbucks. I bump into another guy who engages me about something, and I sit and talk to him. This guy happened to be studying philosophy, getting his PhD in philosophy.
We just talked a little bit about the philosophy of goodness and kindness that comes when you understand who God is. Everywhere I go, everywhere you go, the light ought to be going forward. Are you doing that? That's what brings change. Watch this. You need to pay attention to this. It isn't me, and you're going to find out when Peter goes to Lydda it's not Peter, and when Peter goes to Joppa it's not Joppa. You're going to find out it wasn't Dorcas. You're going to find out it's Jesus. Jesus always works through his church.
The book of Acts is saying his church the gates of hell will not stand against. Sometimes I think we hear that and go, "The church will have gates that hell will not penetrate." That's not what it says. We don't have a fortress mentality here, where we're like, "We're not going to let evil in here." No. It's like we're going to go where hell has an encampment, and we're going to storm the gates. It means the darkness and the evil that you think can't be penetrated and changed is going to change.
I don't have time, but I could tell you when Jesus used these words in Matthew 16, he was at a place called Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was the center of Roman pagan worship. It had goddess worship, temple prostitution. The god Pan was worshiped there. There was a cave they thought was the bottomless pit that the waters of life came out of in a waterfall that fed the Jordan and was the beginning of the source of life that went through all that city, and they worshiped the god of all. It was pagan cult worship.
Jesus took them to this epicenter of godlessness and mythology. That's where he took his disciples, and he said, "Who do you say that I am?" "Some say you're Elijah. Some say you're John the Baptist." If somebody had the courage behind his back, "Some say you're crazy." "But who do you say that I am?" That's when Peter said, "You're the Christ. You're the Messiah. You're the Son of the living God." He looked at Peter and said, "You're right, Peter, and it's the testimony of who I am that's going to change the world."
I think he did this. He turned right around, because that cave that went to the bottomless pit that brought forth life to the world was called the "gates of hell." It was the center of Roman pagan worship in that entire region, and Jesus said, "Hey, you see this? You think this is never going to go away? The gates of hell are going to go away. People are going to worship me, just like you just did. This country is not going to forever be caught under the darkness of lies."
What Jesus is saying is the most powerful religion in the world associated with the most powerful force in the world is not powerful, and they have the inside scoop. Do you all understand that? That wasn't just some metaphor. It was a physical place. It would be like going to Medina, and all everybody in the world knows is Islam, and just saying, "You see this? This is going to go away. This swirl, this endless hijab to this place, where all these billions of people think Muhammad and his way… It's going away, man. Every knee is going to bow and every tongue confess that it's me."
Jesus is saying, "I'm going to not bring about the entire revelation where every knee will bow, because there's judgment associated with that. I'm going to leave you here in the midst of the darkness to bring a great light. Go love them." Do you all see who you are? Now here's who he uses. He doesn't use Peter, some Saint Peter who goes and visits the laypeople in Lydda. That's not what Scripture says.
He doesn't use Peter. In fact, Peter and the apostles, when persecution starts, kind of hunker down, and God pushes out these Hellenized Hebrew Jews who are second-generation believers, and they go up to Samaria and start some ministry. The disciples finally get whistled out, and they go up there to check it out and go, "Well, I'll be. Look at what God is doing."
A little bit later, you're going to find out that the guy the disciples were hiding from, Saul… All of a sudden, the word is that guy knows Jesus. One of the guys who met him when he was in Damascus comes down and says, "Guys, don't be scared of him. God changed this guy's life. Something has happened in Damascus. None of you boys went there, but God did." Jesus uses people who are being built up in the faith…
Read with me in Acts 9:31. It says the church was enjoying peace. It was being built up. It was growing and becoming the full measure of what God intended it to be. This is not Peter and John and Bartholomew and Matthew. This is not Thaddaeus. This is not James the Lesser. These are believers who are individuals who trust that God is going to do what he's going to do. They just go, "Okay, Lord, if you're willing, why not with us?"
They were going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and they were making the words of Jesus happen. Darkness is being penetrated. A great light is going forward. You have to understand Peter is hunkered down, but the church is growing, because Jesus does what he says he's going to do. He's willing to do it with you this week at the Starbucks you're at, the plane ride you're on, the house you live in, the place that you work, if you'll just fear the Lord, be comforted by the Holy Spirit, and know that he is the power of God for salvation, not you. Your job is to sow.
This is a parable Jesus told that we have to continually remind ourselves of. It comes in Mark, chapter 4, verses 26-29. The parable is this. "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night…" That's your job. You are a seed sower. We know Jesus is talking about the fact that the seed here is the Word of God. All you do is say, "Here's what the Word of God says" to skeptics like George Carlin.
"The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil. He goes to bed. He gets up the next day to see how it sprouts and grows. He doesn't know how it happened. The soil produces crops by itself, first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head, and eventually, as the crop permits, there's a great harvest."
We had no idea. All we did was start to sow seed in our hearts and sow seed around Dallas, and we lived in the fear of the Lord. What does it mean to live in the fear of the Lord? To live in the fear of the Lord doesn't mean we're scared of him. It means we respect him. A lot of times when I talk about the fear of the Lord I talk about gravity. I'm not scared to death of gravity. I don't walk around going, "Oh, gravity!" Except when I look in a mirror. I go, "Oh…gravity."
In general, I'm not scared of gravity. I respect it, though, and I realize that gravity is what keeps me from being launched into space and incinerated as I go through the earth's atmosphere. I'm grateful for it, and I don't jack with it on the edge of the Grand Canyon. I respect it. It's a basis through which I can live and prosper on earth.
A better illustration, though, is the one God uses. When he talks about the fear of the Lord, he says this. Jeremiah 23:29 says, "Is not my word like fire, and like a hammer that shatters the rock?" If you're working somewhere… I was staking some things down in my yard, and I was going in, and the stake hit a rock and just bent. When you hit a rock, you move, because the rock is impenetrable.
God says, "No, there is no such thing as that which is impenetrable to the work of God. When I want to do something I do it. I'll shatter the rock with the hammer of my Word. You just swing it." Fire changes things. You guys do know that, right? Fire is what we should fear. I love fire, but I respect fire. Every time it gets below 50 degrees or maybe 60 degrees, 55 for sure, I am building a fire, because fire does something. It connects.
You might tell that one of the guys who had influence on what this property was going to look like here in Dallas likes fire. There's a fire pit inside. There's a fire pit outside. There are little bowls of fire we put around. Why? Because fire causes people to gather. People gather around fire, and they talk and there's fellowship. I love fire in my home. We tell our kids, "You can build a fire anytime you want," but we taught them first to respect it. "We're always going to build a fire here. This is where fire goes. If you take fire out of that spot and misuse it, it's going to bring great destruction."
Do you guys want to see a picture of this? We have this little thing going on in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg right now. This is a forest fire going on. Think about what God says when he says, "My Word is like fire." Fire changes things. It purifies things. We know it gets rid of dross. We know fire also provides light and heat and warmth, but it changes everything it comes in contact with.
Here's a picture of Gatlinburg two weeks ago. Look at that. It's beautiful. Here's the same picture from the same perspective taken now. Things changed. How about this? This is another shot. Same thing. This is a picture of Gatlinburg, that region, a couple of weeks ago. Here's a picture of that same region today. Here are some side-by-side pictures. There's the one shot. If you continue it, you see how it changed completely. Same thing on the next picture. You see half of it before the fire, half of it after. It just completely changes that.
Now we look at that and go, "Todd, what you're saying there is fire destroys." Well, it does. The Word of God destroys sin. It destroys isolation. It destroys war. It brings peace. You guys need to know that what the church really is is a rock harlequin. Why do I say that? A rock harlequin. That's a flower. Forest fires have always happened, by the way. Do you guys know that? There has never been a forest that has not had a fire.
Forest fires aren't just all destruction. They balance the ecosystem that brings forth certain nutrients. It causes the ground to grow. Certain plants only do well after there has been a fire. A rock harlequin is one of them. It takes the heat of a forest fire to germinate the seed. It causes this beautiful little trumpet of yellow and purple and pink, this little plant, to go forth that provides vegetation for animals that, frankly, a very thick forest doesn't, because it chokes out all the lower different plants that animals can thrive on because they can eat.
So even a forest fire… I know Smokey has convinced us that forest fires are bad, and they are bad in some sense, when it destroys timber industries and destroys homes that are built inside of forests and there's loss of life and things like that, but by and large, God uses the fire to bring renewal. That's what Jesus said. "My Word is like that."
All I want to tell you is if your life still looks the same after the fire of God's Word hits it, if it's not purified and the dross isn't brought out and there isn't a nutrient of truth that's going to bring forth life that others can feed off of, you'd better take a good look and see if the reason God is not using you is that you've not met and don't fear the Lord and use it in all the ways you should.
The fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. It's not my job. My job is to sow. My job wasn't to sit there and watch that video with that guy and convince him that Carlin was wrong. My job was just to sow the seed. I go to bed, and I go, "How did this happen?" Jesus does what he says he's going to do, and there's nothing he wants to do that can't be done.
Verse 32: "Now Peter…" It doesn't say "Saint Peter." By the way, you know what? We're just in chapter 9. Peter we last saw in chapter 5. Chapter 6 is about Stephen. Chapter 7 is about Stephen. Chapter 8 now starts to transfer up there to Paul. We see Peter make a quick appearance and go, "Look at what Philip did up here." Chapter 9 is all about Saul. We're all about Saul.
Let me tell you who Peter is, basically. Peter is like this guy. It's kind of like, "So yesterday." Forgotten all about him. He is Romo from here on out. It's all about Dak. Let's get on with Saul. Well, let me just tell you something. You're about to hang out with Romo for a few more chapters. Chapters 9 and 10 are Romo, and then you're going to trickle into Dak, starting in verse 12 all the way through verse 28.
The reason I do that is it's like, "Saul, Saul, Saul. Oh, yeah, Peter." It just reminded me. I don't care who you think you are in God's economy today. I don't care who you think you are in terms of being a Dallas Cowboy stud today. Dak is going to be gone before you know it, just like Tony is gone, just like Roger is gone.
You might remember them, and people ought to remember that while you were here you were a heck of a quarterback, but you're not going to be Peter for long, folks. So while you're Peter, get with it. Run the game plan. It's not about Romo. It's not about Dak. It wasn't about Staubach. It's not about Aikman. It's about Jesus. So run the offense.
Now watch this. "Saint Peter…" No. "Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints…" How about that? Do you guys know this? The word saint is never said of an individual in the New Testament. It's always a class of people. It doesn't say, "Saint Peter went down to the cretins in Lydda," because it's not about Peter. It's about the people God calls out of darkness into his marvelous light.
He doesn't need some all-American sower. He just needs faithful people who will sow. That's what God uses to change the world. He uses faithful people. He's showing Peter, "Hey, Peter. Come out of your hole. Watch what I'm doing. It has gone to Damascus. It has gone to Arabia. It has gone to Ethiopia. It has gone to Gaza, and it's up there already in Lydda. It's in Joppa, and you haven't been there. I have. Jump in. Have some of the fun with me."
God is working everywhere true believers are. If he's not working where you are… Don't wait. Don't wish Billy Graham would come to your neighborhood. Billy is almost Romo. God wants you to be Dak, the man or the woman in your neighborhood. What Billy used to be great was his relationship with Jesus, the fear of the Lord, the comfort of the Holy Spirit. It was built up on the Word, and God increased. Same as you. How are you doing?
Saints are never a characteristic of a person. Saints is a class of people. Biblically, there isn't a Saint Peter. Biblically, there isn't a Saint Todd. All true believers are saints because of what Jesus has done. It's not like there are a couple of miracles that people have attested to, and now those people are somehow so holy that we have to use them to have intercession for us. I don't need to put Saint Joseph in my yard upside down to sell my house.
I don't need a patron saint, because there's one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ our Lord. You are a saint, and you can boldly come before the throne of God. Do you get that? November 1 is called All Saints' Day. November 2 is the folks who aren't quite saints yet. That is a thoroughly unbiblical idea. You either are a saint or you are a son of the Devil, and there is no in between.
Now there are going to be some saints who don't do what they should be doing, and maybe even some saints who think they're saints who are deluded. "How can I know I'm not one of those saints, Todd?" Continually be built up in the faith, fear the Lord, let the consuming fire of God's Word change you, be comforted by the Holy Spirit, and be about the increase of Jesus' work by sowing the seed.
It says this guy Peter was going, and he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years. He was paralyzed. This guy was not born paralyzed. This is a different story. Something happened, some accident. For eight years now he had been a victim of that. He's a type of human. What do I mean by that?
When men were created, we were able to walk with God, do what God wanted. The glory of God was on us, but then there was some injury that came to us, the injury of sin that made us lame. What can make us well again when that which has been given to us has been severed? The God who creates. He can restore what has been lost.
The men who were made to see but can't see the beauty of God's way, God can make them see again. The men who are deaf and can't hear, the glory of God proclaimed, God lets them hear. The men who are leprous and can't feel the consequences of sin and death and pain on them are made clean again. How? Through Jesus.
Watch what Peter does. Peter doesn't go up there and say, "Oh, it's a good thing I'm here. I'm Peter. The gates of hell won't stand against me." No, he doesn't say that. He goes up against this guy who can't walk and says, "Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed." Immediately, Aeneas believed that Jesus Christ could heal him, and he got up.
In the early church, God was showing that what he did, the church will do, so sometimes exactly what he did… By the way, when people's lameness was healed, it didn't mean they didn't still need to have faith. Remember what Jesus did? When Jesus walks up to that guy and says, "Hey, do you want to get well?" he goes "I'd love to get well," and he goes, "Then take up your mat, believe in my Word, and let it change you." That guy got up and walked.
Just like Jesus healed the guy in John 5, Jesus heals the guy in Acts 9. A little bit later in John 5, that guy comes up against Jesus, and Jesus says, "Hey, it looks like you're doing all right." The guy said, "I'm doing amazing." He said, "Well, you'd better believe in the one who healed you lest something worse happens to you." To which you go, "Are you kidding? What could be worse than being paralyzed for 38 years?" Answer: being separated from God forever.
God is showing through the works that Jesus is the one who can do what only God can do, but what only God can do is heal you of something even deeper than temporal paralysis, which is permanent separation from God. Do you all see this? Early on, what he did with the church is he's showing, "Remember what Jesus did? The church can do that." But what Jesus really did is not heal lame people. That's why he didn't do it everywhere. What Jesus did is he healed man from his inability to walk with God because of sin.
Once that has been established, let's go. So the deaf do hear. People who couldn't formerly hear are brought alive by the Spirit of God. People who couldn't see the work of God all of a sudden see it. Why? Because you are going to look at people and go, "Jesus can make you see. Jesus can help you understand truth and reality." It says because this guy's life changed… You can be sure that when this guy's life changed through Jesus people watched his life change.
When he got up, he didn't just go, "Man, thank you so much," and he didn't say, "There are a couple of guys who have been annoying me, and I couldn't catch them. Now that I have legs, I'm going to run them down and beat the crap out of them." That would not have been a blessing. They would have said, "Peter, what are you doing? You made this guy able to destroy us." No. What he did is he got up, and his life changed, and it says, "Many others turned to the Lord."
Now fast-forward up to Joppa. There was a disciple named Tabitha, which means gazelle in Aramaic, and the Greek word for that is Dorcas. "…this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did." She took care of widows and orphans, and yet she fell sick and died. What does that tell you? It tells me that people who are faithful, even in the early church when there were not a lot of leaders, still have difficulties and troubles.
The "health, wealth, and prosperity" gospel has never been true. Someone might go, "Bro, have you read the rest of the verses?" Oh yeah. I know what happens, but what Jesus is going to show us here is that he can still do what he said he's going to do. He's showing Peter that, and he's showing us that. My point is not everybody who died… Obviously, everybody who's faithful is not going to be increasingly healthy, wealthy, and wise.
We go on here. "…she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. Since Lydda was [just 12 miles away between Jerusalem and Joppa] , the ** disciples…" Which means people who were part of the church in Joppa that the apostles had never been to but the Word of God had gone forth to."…having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, 'Do not delay in coming to us.'"**
By the way, that's what people should always say when there's trouble. Let me ask you a question. When was the last time someone said, "We have real problems here. Where's the church?" "Hey, there is despair in my life. Where is that godly Christian in my neighborhood? Where does he live?" People ought to call for you when there's trouble if you are who God wants you to be. "Come comfort us. Come speak words of truth. Come comfort us with the comfort with which you have been comforted."
If you're not getting that call, you ought to really wonder if you're part of the saints of Dallas, Plano, Fort Worth, because that's what saints do. They get called to trouble, because that's what Jesus had happen, and you are his little servants. "So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them."
That's exactly what you want to happen at your funeral. People comfort themselves as they bring forth the works you did and the glory of God that existed in you. "Look at what this woman did. I know we're grieving, and yet not as those who don't have hope. Look. There's a great loss, because God has removed this saint in our midst. This embodiment of the glory of God that dwelled in Dorcas that she ran speedily to do for us is gone." That's what you want to happen.
It's always nice when you go to a funeral and famous and wealthy, impressive people speak, but do you know what's really amazing and when you know there really was an agent of God there? It's when the poor and unknown stand up and go, "Let me tell you what they did for me." That's what has happened with this woman.
"But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed…" What's Peter doing? Remember what he did before? He did exactly what Jesus did. He didn't say, "I heal." He said, "Jesus heals." Now this woman isn't there to believe, so Peter prays. When Jesus was before his friend Lazarus, do you know he didn't pray? He just said, "Father, I know that you're there. I'm saying this for them, that they might know that it's all about you." He then said, "Lazarus, come forth."
In Mark, chapter 5, there's a little girl, which is really interesting. The word for little girl is Talitha. This gal's name is Tabitha. There's only a one-letter difference between what Peter says here in Acts 9 and what Jesus says in Mark 5. Jesus says, "Talitha kum." Peter says, "Tabitha, kum," but Peter doesn't do it with his own authority. He says, "God, this has to be you. I can't raise people from the dead, but Jesus can."
So he speaks up and says, "Tabitha, arise. Come hither." "And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up." What do you think she did? I'm going to tell you what she did. She got after it. She went hard to the hole to serve again. This is not some woman who was a nag, and the church showed up and brought her back, and all of a sudden that life you're trying to get rid of is back. That's like the zombie apocalypse when that happens. You're not happy. Like, "What do we have to do to get rid of these people?"
Here, you know that this gal went out faithfully, and when she was brought back, there was great rejoicing, because faithfulness abounded. She died again. This was a resuscitation; it wasn't a resurrection. "And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive." That's the way Jesus wants to present you: Alive. Alive to goodness and mercy, alive to the truth of God, alive to the comforting power of the Holy Spirit, alive to that which builds you up so that the Word of God could increase. Do you all see this?
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are the kinds of people who bring joy wherever they go, and there are the people who bring joy whenever they go. Oscar Wilde. What I would offer to you is the church ought to be the people who bring joy wherever they go. They ought to bring light, sowing of the Word of God, and an absolute humility. I'm a kindler of the fire; I'm not the fire. I'm a sower of the seed; I'm not the seed. This is about Jesus. He heals. "Father, if you will, bring this man back to life from the deadness of his sin." When it happens, all glory to Jesus.
Church, you don't want to go out to when you leave people are glad you're gone. If the only people who are happy the church is here today is us because we have something to do on Sunday morning, woe be us. People ought to bring forth… When the government wants to shut us down, people ought to come forth and say, "Don't get rid of those people. Look at the good works and the kindness they were to us," and the poorer and more indigent they are the more they ought to say it. Let's go out and be faithful.
Father, I pray that the way we would go out from here, having heard the Word of God today, is filled with faithfulness, filled with a confidence that you are the one who does great things. Lord, would you help us to be people who, when we are given newness of life, walk in a way that is attentive to your Word, that we might be built up, that we fear you? We don't want to miss an opportunity to serve you. While we're still here as Peter, we want to be doing everything a faithful Peter should do.
We want to be comforted by the Holy Spirit. It's his power that works mightily in us. It's not up to our skill. It's up to our faithfulness so that the glory of God might increase and so would our joy as we see our King being recognized. We thank you, King, for what you have done. Would you remind us that there are some people who are going to go out really wrong? Make us to go out like Tabitha. Bring forth from us life. Make us like Lazarus who leaves our grave clothes behind. Help us to listen and be encouraged even by the words of this song and be reminded how we should go out. In Jesus' name, amen.
Here's the thing. You don't want to go out of here and be a nag. You don't want to go out of here, having been resurrected by the truth of God's Word, and jump somebody and run them down. You want to go out of here today and out of this life having been somebody the widows mourn over because grace is gone, that darkness is sad because a means of light is gone. If you've never had that light come into you, you don't want to go out of here today indifferent to the fact that Jesus changes you. Jesus heals. Today is your day to respond to that.
So let's not go out of here and just go back to acting like it's not a big deal. This is our moment, Peter. In a few chapters, we're gone, and it's all about Paul. Where we are today, people ought to be whistling for us to come to bring comfort, because we've been comforted. If you need to be comforted today, don't go out of here thinking you'll get to it later. If you have been comforted before, let's get out of here and be faithful.
That's why we say at the end of every service, "Let's go have a great week of worship." It's what the church does. It goes out differently into the world, not because we're the light, but we're the vessels through which light shines through. That's the way we go out. I want you to think about all of the places on the map that this room, Plano, and Fort Worth represent. That's the way we want to go out: as lights for others. Would you come if you need to know that light? If you know it, would you go and be it all your days? That's the way you want to go out. Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.